The Archfiend Artifact

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10:11 PM

Talk of impending doom at the hands of Taboo continued for a while until Duncan put a stop to it. The vampire reminded the others—and explained to me—that Taboo preferred to work alone. Not to mention that the Shadow we’d been chasing is a B rank, which falls far, far below Taboo’s particular standards.

Finally, I had to ask, “Demons are classified?”

“They are ranked according to their brains and brawn,” Quinn explained. He held up his hand and counted off his fingers. “Five classes. D Class we don’t really get bothered with because they’re basically just brainless drudges, but they are freakishly strong. C Class demons are quite a bit smarter and, thankfully, weaker than D Class. B Class is where we start having problems. They’re stronger and faster than your everyday cowan, and they can put up one hell of a fight when they’re cornered. A Class makes the B Class look like helpless kittens. And S Class,” he grimaced, dropped his hand to his side. “S Class demons are your worst nightmares. As powerful as Taboo is, he’s lower on the S Class totem pole than others.”

“Thankfully,” said Specter, “there are significantly fewer S Class demons than all the other classes. It seems to be limited to the nobles.”

“Rumors of a sixth class have begun to float around WEIRD in the last century,” Morgan added. “Celestials have taken to calling it Z Class. Supposedly, they make the S Class look harmless, but we have yet to find any evidence to support this.”

I gulped. If the Shadow that has been chasing me and giving everyone trouble is only a B, I couldn’t imagine what A and S were like in comparison. And a new and more powerful Z Class? Holy crap!

“That’s news to me,” muttered Quinn. Specter agreed with him.

Morgan shrugged a shoulder as if she didn’t care whether anyone knew about the rumors or not.

“What about Khione?” I asked, glanced at the clock on the wall behind Quinn. “What Class is she?”

The AEONs chorused, “S.”

Well, isn’t that just perfect. I had less than twenty-four hours to prove that I didn’t have the Mirror of Souls or an S Class demon would be taking my head to whomever put the bounty on me. How in the world am I going to get past this?

Calm down, Jinx. Think. What do you know?

I looked over my shoulder at the image still projected on the wall. Okay. So Taboo is alive and works alone. Disturbing, yet irrelevant at the moment. But we have a Shadow lurking around town, and now we know it’s working with someone. Whoever that someone is had to know not only how to contact a demon but something about Cynthia Santova that justified murdering her. It’s even possible that our mystery person knew about the Mirror of Souls. One thing they did know for certain: Cynthia had a security system. Otherwise, why steal into her house and empty the safe and destroy the footage before the AEONs could get it?

So… “Find the accomplice, find the mirror.”

“My thoughts exactly,” said Quinn.

“Yeah,” Morgan drawled. “But we don’t know who the accomplice is.”

“You guys said Cynthia used to be an AEON, right?”

The four of them nodded.

Then Duncan fell in line with my thinking. “Go through every case the Huntress vorked, starting at the time she retired. If any of the parathropes she arrested knew how to call up a demon, find them and bring them in.”

“On it.”

Then the vampire looked at me. “Ve need to talk.”

I waved my hand in a gesture that said, lead the way. He did. And the two of us strode down the hall and into his private office. I stood just inside the threshold, watched as he retrieved the remote from his desktop.

“Calling that lady again?”

He nodded. “Ve need to report in about Taboo.”

“Makes sense.”

He pointed the remote at the watercolor painting. As before, it went black and started to ring. The woman appeared on screen.. Her auburn hair had been released from it’s bun to curl around her shoulders. She looked more relaxed that way.

“Revenant.” Her voice held a note of impatience. “This is becoming a bit of a habit for you.”

Duncan didn’t reply, but the way he clenched his jaw spoke volumes in the silence.

“Very well,” she continued. “What is so important that you hastened to call upon me?”

“Ve have evidence that Taboo is alive.”

Her lips parted in a small but silent gasp. Then the fire in her jade eyes blazed and her brow furrowed. “Do not jest of such things, Rev—”

“I’m not.” He folded his arms. “Actually, it vas Cybil here,” he nodded to me “who made the discovery.”

Her jadefire gaze settled upon me.

“It’s true,” I said and took a couple steps closer to the screen. “He appears in a photo taken in a necropolis in India dated a little over two weeks ago.”

She fell silent.

“Ve are certain it is him. The pale starburst on his forehead is visible in the photo.”

“Impressive,” she said at last. Though her tone hadn’t changed, I could tell that that little revelation had actually awed her. “You were only made an acting agent hours ago, and in that time you managed to find the most elusive demon in history.”

I shrugged. “Happy accidents.”

“Even so,” she said. “You have proven to be quite the asset to Team Beta. Have you considered staying on and eventually becoming a full agent?”

“Eh.” I shrugged again. “I’ve been arguing with myself over that this entire week. It mostly boils down to whether or not I want to remain so close to agili—er. I mean, my grandma.”

Her lips pulled into an understanding, little smile. “AEON has ways to conceal you in plain sight so that your grandmother will never see you even if she’s standing right in front of you.”

My heartbeat quickened. Such a device would open up all sorts of opportunities for me, and I wouldn’t ever need to fear being found by agilisi again. I could hang out with friends. Graduate from high school. Have a home with everything I’ve dreamed of since I turned five.

I’d finally be safe.

“If you were to receive one of our concealers, would you feel more comfortable remaining in the area so as to continue working with Revenant and his team?”

This time, it took me all of two seconds to decide. “Absolutely.”

“Very well. I will have one delivered to you on the marrow.”

Somehow, I managed to choke out a thank you.

It took Duncan over just under hour to register me for nocturnal classes at the school after the call had ended. He helped me choose the electives that would serve me best in my budding career as an AEON Enforcement Agent. Then, with a pair of new uniforms and a schedule for my classes, I headed upstairs to my room.

My home.

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